A Trip To The Isle Of Man TT - Lean Angle

Fantasy Island

Although 2000 has been one of the most exciting motorcycling years I can remember, it's still easy to nail down my personal two-wheeled high points from the last 12 months.

One was watching my four-year-old son, Alex, ride his bicycle sans training wheels the other day-though the experience was both gratifying and horrifying at once. (You moms and dads will understand.)

Another was my first-ever trip to the Isle of Man for the TT this past June. I'd planned to go several times over the years, only to opt out as summer drew near for various reasons. Now that I've experienced the island's unique mix of history, hooliganism and hard-core racing, I'm sorry I waited this long. If you're a sportbike junkie, you simply must attend the TT at least once. The place is literally saturated with motorcycles, racing and bike history.

Riding with Alan Cathcart in his van from the airport to our digs in Ramsey was hugely entertaining; my first few glimpses of the actual circuit (typical British city/country roads bordered by straw bales and signage) raised goosebumps. And when we used the circuit (open to traffic on nonracing days) for the trip to Ramsey, what I saw literally shocked me. Most enthusiasts have probably watched TT videos; they've viewed the rock walls and crashes, seen the late Joey Dunlop flat-out on the mountain section, deep into triple-digits, hundred-foot drop-offs whizzing past. But listening to Cathcart as he gave a play-by-play on lines and danger zones (he's raced the TT several times and knows the course well), I still couldn't comprehend the fact that racers actually compete here at speed.

Later in the week I was fortunate to get a full lap of the closed-to-traffic race circuit, complete with race fans gathered at the course's prime viewing spots. Cathcart lent me his 30-year-old Benelli 650 twin for the lap (vintage bikes only), and though its weak brakes and rock-hard tires made for treacherous going (I almost crashed at Quarterbridge when I lost the front end!), they also reminded me to take it easy-and take it all in. Opportunities to ride the legendary 37.7-mile Mountain Course are few and far between. The lap was one of the most intense experiences of my life, and the peak moment of an already superb trip. I've never had so much fun being so careful-and going so slow!

I'll never compete at the Isle of Man (though the thought is alluring in some ways), but I will go back to watch. Pinnacle events like the TT are not to be missed.